We started the trip one day early, due to the potential threat of inclement weather in New York. Instead of departing on Sunday morning, we booked a flight for Saturday afternoon from Birmingham, in order to reach NY ahead of any storms. Fortunately the weather remained calm, but we were spared the stress of the 'what ifs'. As is typically prior to a long journey, sleep did not come easily for the couple of nights prior to our travel, so we were pretty tired before we even boarded our flight from NYC to Madinah. Caffeine, of course, helps.
Our flight took us directly to Madinah, where we were scheduled to spend a few days prior to departing to Jeddah buy plane, and ultimately to Makkah where the actual rituals of Hajj are performed. Arriving at Madinah airport:
For the first night we were given a small room, facing inwards, so our view comprised a few interior walls of the hotel. But on the following day we received a new room assignment, and this was the view of Masjid e Nabawi (the mosque of the Holy Prophet PBUH) from our room:
We also drove by a location where the Battle of the Trench had happened. Finally, we stopped at Uhud, another historic battle site. Here, we made prayers for the martyrs of the battle, where many Muslim lives were lost.
We spent the rest of the day making prayers at Masjid e Nabawi, and attending lectures from some very learned Imams, some were guests and others traveled with us from the United States. This is how we spent most of the time in Madinah. The lectures were extremely insightful, and have had a great impact on making me realize what improvements I need to make in my own life. Between lectures and prayers in congregation, we rarely got over 2 hours of sleep straight, but there was an amazing burst of adrenaline that kept us going.
One night at midnight we had the opportunity to attended a guided walking tour of Masjid e Nabawi and its surrounding areas. We learned a lot about the history of the mosque and its expansion.
The green dome over the Rawdah of the Holy Prophet PBUH (where he is buried) was built in the time of the Ottoman Empire:
We took chartered buses to our hotel in Makkah, and again were assigned a room with a beautiful view of the Haram, or Masjid al Haram. Even more spectacular, since we were on the 43rd floor. I don't think I've ever lived that high up before! There is expansion going on around the Haram, so the crane did mar our view a bit, but still, amazing! In the center is the Kaa'ba, where tawaf is performed (circling the Kaaba seven times while reciting prayers). This was also part of our Umrah. Since there were few people there the first day we arrived, the ritual did not take long. It was followed by drinking Zamzam water and Sa'i, which was walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa. I admit, it was a little hard with my sprained ankle (it happened two weeks before our trip), but we completed it, all, during the first day in Makkah.
After Sa'i, inside the haram:
After performing Umrah we traveled early next morning to Arafat, which is the most essential part of performing Hajj. The Hujjaj spend the day and most of the night in tents. The first part of the day is spent resting while the important part starts after the midday prayers. The day was spent remembering Allah, and reciting prayers, both personally and collectively, as well as recitation of the Holy Quran and a couple of very inspiring lectures. The tent we had was well decorated and even had air conditioning!
We returned to Makkah during the morning of Eid, and had to walk a quite a distance to our hotel because of the road closures during Eid prayers. We again performed tawaf; this time the Haram was much more crowded, and then we removed our Ihram garments back at the hotel. Part of coming out of Ihram is that men either cut their hair or shave their heads, and women cut about an inch of their hair too. I admit, Zakir was relieved to be back in 'real' clothes!
I have to say, we were very well fed during our entire trip, with something for every palate during each meal. We again performed stoning of the Jamaraat (a total of three times). Last year, sadly, there had been a stampede during this ritual, and several Hujjaj had lost their lives. This year was much better organized, in spite of the huge number of people there. Returning to the Mena camp after stoning the Jamaraat:
After Tawaf al Wida (the farewell tawaf), we packed up and prepared to travel to Jeddah, where we would be boarding our flight to JFK airport. We met with friends at dinner time and had the chance to snap a few photos. We actually made great connections on this trip and hope to remain in touch with the friends we made.
So, we arrived at JFK, and took a shuttle to La Guardia, headed back to Birmingham, via Chicago. Of course, by the time we reached La Guardia we had been awake for about 24 hours straight (who can sleep in cramped plane seats anyway?), so it was back to square one.
It still feels a little surreal that Zakir and I have completed the most important journey of our lives. I believe that, in many ways, these two weeks have been truly life changing, and I am already trying to implement what I have learned in my day to day life. Praying that Allah gives me the strength to do so!